Nevada law prohibits obscene, threatening and annoying phone calls as a type of harassment. A conviction may result in fines and even jail time at the Clark County Detention Center. But a skilled Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer may be successful in getting the case thrown out completely.
This article summarizes the Nevada offense of making phone calls with threatening, obscene or annoying content. Scroll down to read about the relevant law, possible defenses and potential penalties.
Some people presume that the First Amendment guarantees everyone freedom of speech without risk of breaking the law. In fact, that's not always the case, especially when the speech is harassing. And certain speech may be illegal when spoken not only in person but also over the telephone.
NRS 201.255 prohibits three types of speech communicated over the phone–obscene speech, threatening speech, and annoying speech:
- Obscene speech. It's a crime in Nevada willfully to make a telephone call and address obscene language, representation or suggestion to or about any person receiving the call.
- Threatening speech. It's also a criminal offense in Nevada willfully to make a telephone call and threaten injury to the person or property of the person receiving the call or any member of that person's family.
- Annoying speech. Finally, Nevada makes it unlawful to make a telephone call with the intent to annoy another person whether or not a conversation ever ensues from making the call.
Note that prosecutors may press charges in Nevada as long as one of the parties to the telephone call was within the state when the call was made. So, for example, take John in Houston who calls Ann in Las Vegas and threatens to hurt her sister . . . here, John could face prosecution by the Clark County District Attorney's office because Ann was in Las Vegas during the phone call.
Also note that making threatening phone calls with the intent to extort money from the recipient in exchange for not acting on the threats would instead be prosecuted as the Las Vegas crime of blackmail. Expectedly, the Las Vegas crime of blackmail carries more serious penalties than merely making a threatening phone call with no intent to profit from it.
Obscene speech in Las Vegas, NV
What qualifies as obscene speech in Nevada is subject to debate. Clark County courts refer to the following statutory guidelines when trying to determine whether someone's speech rises to the level of obscene:
Obscene language in Las Vegas is any speech which meets all of these conditions:
- An average person applying contemporary community standards would find the speech, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest.
- Taken as a whole the speech lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
- The speech depicts or describes in a patently offensive way either 1) ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, or 2) any masturbation, excretory functions, sadism or masochism.
The vague and subjective language of NRS 201.255 affords defense attorneys many different ways to fight allegations of threatening, obscene or annoying phone calls in Nevada. Two typical defenses to this offense include:
- No threats, obscenities or annoyances: The extent to which speech may qualify as threatening, obscene or annoying is largely open to opinion. Merely upset, frustrated or off-color speech is perfectly legal. If a defense attorney can convince a judge or jury that the telephone call fell short of unlawful speech, then the defendant should be acquitted.
- False allegations: Sometimes defendants are falsely accused by others out of revenge, anger or a miscommunication. As long as the prosecution can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that that the defendant made the alleged phone calls, the case should be dropped. And if the phone calls were never recorded, the accused has an even greater chance of success because no concrete evidence exists one way or another.
The Las Vegas crime of making threatening, annoying or obscene phone calls is punished as a misdemeanor in Nevada. The sentence for a misdemeanor in Nevada would carry:
- up to 6 months in jail at the Clark County Detention Center (or another county jail), and/or
- up to $1,000 in fines
Arrested? There's help . . . .
If you've been accused of making an annoying, threatening or obscene phone call under NRS 201.255, contact Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation. Their aim is to protect your criminal record by negotiating your case down to a full dismissal. But if necessary they'll take your case to trial and fight zealously for a "not guilty" outcome.
For information about California Penal Code 653m PC | Annoying Phone Calls, see our article on California Penal Code 653m PC | Annoying Phone Calls.